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Melo's sacrifices could open the door for other Thunder mates to emerge

From ESPN - December 3, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The ball kicked out to Carmelo Anthony at the top of the key with 14 seconds on the shot clock, and a justifiably wide open straightaway 3-pointer was in front of him. With no hesitation, Anthony caught the pass and fired the ball to his right to an even more open Alex Abrines.

The shot went up, clanging off the back iron.

Two quarters later, a similar situation presented itself. The ball found Anthony, who was open enough to shoot, but he swung it instantly to a more open Abrines. This time, the Spanish sharpshooter, who has been slumping, paid it off.

It was a matter of process over results, a tangible win for the message Billy Donovan has been hammering away at for the last month. And it's not that it was pretty -- at all -- for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 90-87 win over the Spurs' B-team, but stylistically, the Thunder were different. The ball moved from side to side, the pass was trusted, the open man found more times than not. The Thunder shot the ball miserably -- especially Paul George, who was 2-of-17. But again, in a big spot late in the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook turned down what would have been a highly contested shot in the paint to kick to a wide open George. He took one dribble, and a deep breath, and drained a 3 to put the Thunder up eight. It also gave Westbrook his 10th assist, and a seventh triple-double on the season.

So much of what Donovan has preached has been "habits" with his stars. Taking the habitual nature to step into a contested midrange 2-pointer and turning it into a reversal to the other side of the floor as part of the hunt for a better shot. The process has been painful at times, with clear hesitation brewing in Westbrook and Anthony specifically.

Anthony has had to take the adjustment to heart the most, with it bearing out obviously over the last two games. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, and then against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, Anthony has attempted a total of 17 shots, scoring 18 points. It's the first time in his 15-year NBA career that Anthony has scored in single digits in consecutive games. He has been clearly intentional with making extra passes, resisting the outside-the-paint, off-the-dribble jumper, to be more selective for catch-and-shoot opportunities.

"I think at this point, this process we are still trying to figure it out, still trying to see how we want to play. So we are still trying different things out there," Anthony said. "For me personally, it's just about doing something different, seeing where the team really needs me on a night-to-night basis. And just be willing to do that and being willing to sacrifice, not every night having to score 20 or 30 points, and I am good with that, it's a good feeling as long as we are winning. I think these past couple games that we have been winning, we have been moving the ball well and putting a complete game together, and as a result, have won two in a row."

The Thunder's offensive struggles have been shocking this season, with them in the bottom third of the league in efficiency (23rd after Sunday's games) despite a stacked roster of offensive stars. Where they have failed most specifically, is in settling. They fall back to isolation non-paint 2-pointers, which is a low-efficiency shot and also directly impacts their ability to get to the free throw line. It has become a bit of a math equation the Thunder are failing. They have wonderful talent, but even that ca not overcome the law of averages. When you take low-efficiency shots, eventually you get low-efficiency offense.

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